Thursday, December 1

Mobile Learning at TEDxLondon

Geoff Stead presents mobile learning as a tool for empowerment at TEDxLondon – a TED event dedicated to shaking up education

Original slides available on slideshare

Presentations by the other (amazing!) co-presenters on the TEDxLondon site


I’d like to introduce you to a word. Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is an African concept that doesn’t translate easily into English. It means “I am me because of us”, “I grow myself by helping others around me to grow”.

It is an awesome word. I try to live my life by it. And it is the philosophy behind the projects I would like to tell you about.

Mobile phones have become part of our lives. There are more phones in the developed world than people. The developing world is catching up fast. Mobile connectivity is transforming how we communicate. And where.  And when. It has fundamentally changed how we look up information. It has generated new kinds of job that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. New types of entertainment.  New forms of art.

So why not new ways to learn?

This is already happening - it is called mobile learning. Bringing mobile devices and phones into the class to enhance learning.

Smartphones are like a swiss army knife, packed with school friendly tools:
They are cameras, writing tools, eBook readers, calculators, diaries, reference books. You have the entire web in your hand

But more importantly they are agents for change - encouraging new ways of teaching

    * Learner centered: Learning is mobile and can happen anywhere. It can happen anytime: in or out of school. It can be collaborative. It can also be intensely private.
    * Teacher is no longer the source of all facts, but rather a collaborator and guide
    * The encourage lots of future skills like those listed on the slide

In the UK I mostly work with learners NOT in school. Kids who have dropped out. Young offenders. The unemployed. Adults in training but struggling to read and write. People for whom traditional school didn’t work out. I build software to support their learning – regularly making use of mobile phones as a stimulus. But a few years ago I happened to meet a fellow South African who shared my passion for education, and wanted to take these same ideas back into South Africa, to mainstream schools

And we did! The projects are collectively called m-ubuntu, and use mobile learning as a stimulus to encourage critical debate between teachers, and improve the quality of teaching.

They take refurbished smartphones, with some educational software and tools installed onto them, and use them to improve teaching and learning. The results have been inspiring. Local teachers even won a grant from the US to go to Washington and share what they had learned with American teachers!

But the successes are not down to putting smartphones into poor schools – they are about using them as an agent for change.

The real wins happen when teachers work with other teachers to discuss how best to use these new tools.

<< stepping through a range of photos from the project >>

Of course these happy photos only tell a fragment of the story. There are some challenging new skills to learn for both students and teachers. What happens if they are stolen? Or if students give away personal data? What about internet safety? Or plagiarism. By working on these challenges together, the real value kicks in . Students get engaged and build real life skills

Mobile learning is certainly here to stay. It may be initially disruptive – but isn’t that exactly the stimulus we need to help focus education towards the future?

If you want to try this for yourself, here are my 3 top tips:

  1. Firstly – don’t be constrained by pre-packaged learning resources. Think of the smartphone as a tool to do stuff. Record music. Film a movie. Build an app. This is what they are made for, and makes for the best learning.
  2. Secondly – It won’t be right first time, but if you try again it will get better. And the time after than even better. It is OK to make mistakes – so plan in flexibility
  3. Thirdly – Share the learning with your students. Discuss mobile learning with them. Let the kids learn the details about the phones, and become your technical support. By building autonomy and problem solving skills they will be learning some real future skills

Monday, September 12

Mobile Learning InfoKit [free download]

Hot off the press, we are pleased to present the Mobile Learning infoKit. Launched at ALT-C 2011

The infoKit offers valuable advice for any organisation starting out in m-learning, as was compiled with interviews and contributions from all the main thinkers, creators and educators in this space

See the overview presentation (below) for a great introduction to m-learning, and if you want more you can download the entire infoKit at

Many months in development, this infokit was put together by Doug and those nice people at Jisc infoNet as a service to the education community. Thanks all!

Friday, September 2

Google’s App Inventor … liberation or stagnation?

app-inventor A year ago, Google released App Inventor – a fascinatingly visual, albeit rather buggy tool for developing android apps. Although not robust enough for our commercial development, we loved the fresh ideas about interface, and app building. Perfect tools for learning about coding. Today I found an email in my inbox announcing that Google are dropping support for it.

Google are open-sourcing the code base. Often a sign of a project’s demise. Sounds like bad news for education … or is it?

Sunday, August 21

MobiMOOC 2011 - a summary

The first ever MobiMOOC (Massively online course on mobile learning) happened earlier this year.

Were you there?

If not, we have saved all the links, and best bits into our MobiMOOC 2011 summary.

MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses, normally free to access. This one was the first ever focussed on mobile learning, initiated by the endlessly energetic Inge De Waal (@ignatia) , for the uninitiated) is

The aim was:
‘Getting you up-to-date with mobile learning and providing the tools to plan, develop and implement a mobile learning solution in different environments via collaboratively discussing and exchanging knowledge through a variety of learning activities.’
Discussion was spread between live sessions, online fora, and the MobiMOOC website, but are already starting to get a little lost in the ether.

To help capture a small fragment of what happened, the Tribal research team pulled together all the links / references / project info shared during the course, and have frozen it in time in our MobiMOOC 2011 summary.

Help yourself. We hope that some of the info shared during this amazing event is of use to you. And keep your eyes on the main MobiMOOC site in case we do another next year!

Tuesday, July 26

Best tools for cross platform app development

As part of our work on the MoLE project we have been revisiting the rapidly growing number of frameworks, libraries and platforms that developers can use to create cross-platform mobile apps 

If you are new to app development, you may know there is a constant debate between app developers, building “native” apps, and mobile web developers, championing “web apps”. The native app developers get better performance and integration, while the web app developers get broader reach and better standardisation

In the middle of this debate are a growing team of developers championing a hybrid of these two positions. Developing code once (like “native”) but deploying across apple / android / blackberry (like “web apps”). This is a rapidly emerging area, with a flurry of very exciting toolkits available.

To keep you up to date, we are very happy to share our recent report:


Cross-platform mobile development

a review of the top cross platform mobile app development frameworks, libraries and platforms


Thursday, June 23

mLearnCon presentation

I have just finished a very enjoyable discussion-filled presentation at mLearnCon – a mobile learning conference in Silicon Valley arranged by the eLearningGuild.

My session was all about helping the mostly US audience look a little wider at international m-learning projects, to see what lessons could be learned for the many current m-learning projects that are starting up right now

See below for the presentation we gave – comments (as always) welcomed

Friday, June 3

Use Smartphones in class, say school principals

The National Association of Secondary School Principals have been trying to make sense of the whirlwind that is Social and Mobile Technologies.

They have just released a position statement, summarizing their thoughts on the matter … and it is surprisingly good!

They actively encourage schools to accept smartphones, and social networking as part their educational provision, and offer a range of guidelines and advice to different levels of practitioner.

Wednesday, March 2

Mobile market share 2011 – really?

Fascinating overview of mobile operating system market share - but is it real?
Those nice folks at icrossing have updated their infographic summarising mobile operating systems all over the world.Mobile-OS-Market-Share-2012
It is a great visual image. I use it often. BUT BEWARE … it is easy to read too much into it. The same old problems with mobile stats apply here.

Monday, January 17

Mobile stats for 2010 and 2011

I can’t help but be bowled over when I try to get my head around exactly how many people are doing useful tasks on their phones.

There are always a flurry of stylish YouTube presentations around this time of year, showcasing the “growth of mobile” – here is one I like:

We are in the midst of some “deep dive” research at the moment, which is cool (because we have very current stats), but it does also turn us into cynics, as we realise how easy it is to over-sell the feel-good factor.

Many of the stats are by their nature skewed. A good rule of thumb is that “the more financially viable, the more accurate the stats”. So if you want to know mobile internet usage in Ghana – you will struggle. But if you want to know which mobile apps are bought most in the USA … easy!

I like the stats, above, as they are a pretty accurate, global summary. We will be uploading some of our own perspectives on this in the future

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